Monday, April 23, 2018

Broadway Theater Review: Carousel with Joshua Henry, Jessie Mueller and Renée Fleming

Jessie-Mueller and Joshua-Henry. Photo: Julieta Cervantes


Carousel
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Choreography by Justin Peck
Directed by Jack O’Brien
Imperial Theatre
Through Jan. 6, 2019

By Lauren Yarger
Though you may have some doubts about whether you should see the Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, let me persuade you that it is more than worth it.

Reviving a story about a man who abuses his wife in the midst of the #metoo movement is problematic. Why revive this show when there are so many others, with better stories, just waiting for a chance to play the Great White Way?

I can give you two reasons right away that make it worthwhile: Joshua Henry as Billy Bigelow and Renée Fleming making her first appearance in a Broadway musical.  Henry's performance, directed by Jack O'Brien, made me see Billy in a new light. It' wasn't a light that cast a shadow on the concept of a husband hitting his wife and tries to hide this offensive trait or tries to get us to shrug it off as acceptable (which would have been the case in previous productions). Instead, Henry stands in the spotlight and embraces Billy as he is: flawed, out of control, but regretful.

This is a new Billy for me. No trying to gloss over the repugnant with charm or good looks (though Henry certainly possesses an abundance of both.) No trying to suggest that women over react or are somehow deserving of abuse, even if the dialogue stresses that he only hit her once and townsfolks are mistaken when they think he "beats" his wife regularly. (other productions seem to want us to think once doesn't really count.) This Billy offers no excuses. Just a transparent depiction of a man unable to figure out how to leave trouble behind and how to embrace something good in his life. It didn't make me like him, but it did allow me to tolerate him.

Fleming as Nettie Fowler and her rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" is worth the price of the ticket by itself. It's so beautifully sung, so moving and deep, that it stopped the show with audience members trying to applaud and wipe away tears simultaneously. I hardly ever tear up in the theater, but this one got me.

So, totally by surprise, I found myself very much enjoying a show I don't really like all that much. Haven't liked it any other time I have seen it on stage and I am not a fan of the 1956 film starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae.  The difference here is driven by excellent performances across the boards.

Jessie Mueller, as Bigelow's battered wife who loves him through the bruises and hardships, gives Julie dignity and strength even while justifying Billy's behavior because he is a man who is "unhappy and quick-tempered." She finds a way to forgive which is inspiring. She also displays a high soprano I didn't know she had after getting used to a lower range employed by the actress in her last two Broadway roles in Waitress and Beautiful.

Also displaying a wonderfully high soprano and amazing comedy skills is Lindsay Mendez who plays Julie's friend, Carrie Pipperidge. She and Alexander Gemignani, who plays her intended/husband, Enoch Snow, are a pleasure to watch as they interact.  Margaret Colin also gives a nice turn as Billy's older, possessive boss and lover, Mrs. Mullin,

By the end of the show and hearing the rest of Hammerstein's score including favorites like If I Loved You" and "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" I realized that what I really don't like about Carousel is the book by Oscar Hammerstein. All of the actors who turn in shining performances and create characters who have lots of depth show the book for what it is: weak storytelling. Hammerstein shares the blame with Ferenc Molnárk who wrote Lilliom, the Budapest-set drama on which Carousel is based.

There's much for the eyes, as well as the ears to enjoy in this production. Set Designer Santo Loquasto whimsically creates the heavens where a Starkeeper (John Douglas Thompson) gives Billy a chance to take another look at his life, and a beautiful carousel canopy under which dancers, skillfully positioned by Justin Peck, resident choreographer of the NY City Ballet, become the horses and riders. Costumes by the always excellent Ann Roth complete the turn-of-the-19th Century look for this Maine community.

Carousel turns our opinions around at the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th St., NYC. Performance times vary. Tickets are $59-$169: carouselbroadway.com.

Additional casting:
Colin Anderson, Yesenia Ayala, Nicholas Belton, Colin Bradbury, Andrei Chagas, Leigh-Ann Esty, Laura Feig, David Michael Garry, Garett Hawe, Rosena M. Hill Jackson, Amy Justman, Jess LeProtto, Skye Mattox, Kelly McCormick, Anna Noble, Adriana Pierce, Rebecca Pitcher, David Prottas, Amy Ruggiero, Craig Salstein, Ahmad Simmons, Antoine L. Smith, Corey John Snide, Erica Spyres, Ryan Steele, Sam Strasfeld, Halli Toland, Ricky Ubeda, Scarlett Walker, Jacob Keith Watson, and William Youmans.

Additional credits:
Brian MacDevitt (Lighting Design), Scott Lehrer (Sound Design), Jonathan Tunick (Orchestrations), Andy Einhorn (Musical Supervision, Direction, and Vocal Arrangements).

Note:
Renée Fleming will not be performing the role of Nettie Fowler during these dates:
- Sept. 4 through Oct. 28, 2018
- Dec. 27, 2018 through Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019

And one more thing:
Todd S. Purdum's "Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway Revolution " (Henry Holt and Company; 2018) offers a fresh and look at the artistic team, their relationship with each other, their creative process, and their groundbreaking innovations: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781627798341

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain

-- Think PG-13 for content

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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